My Tools for Writing: Reprise

A while ago I wrote about my favorite programs/implements for writing efficiently, but I neglected to mention my most important tool: my laptop.

It didn’t seem worth mentioning because it’s an obvious tool. Most writers have some sort of computer or tablet  for writing. My own laptop faded into mundanity because I used it for everything; it wasn’t special anymore.

Until one day, thinking my computer was moving slow (I had taken to calling it “the dinosaur”), I watched the clock in the top right hand corner of my screen while waiting for Microsoft Word to open. Four minutes passed.

"Dinosaur Jr." by Stéfan via Flickr

“Dinosaur Jr.” by Stéfan via Flickr

I realized then that without much awareness, I had been building mini-accomplishments into my day to make those four minutes pass. Open a document/make a cup of tea. Send a file to print/take the laundry out of the dryer. Download an update/take the dog for a walk. I felt productive because I was multitasking but really, I was wasting a lot (3 minutes and 52 seconds) of time. I needed a new laptop. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing Stuff

How Being a Writer is Like Being a Gardner

photo 1I’ve reached an age where, because I don’t have any children, I’m picking up “adult hobbies.” I blame this too on the fact that I own a house now* and feel like, you know, I should probably take care of it. So, I’ve started gardening.

Last weekend I stepped into my yard to assess my hard work. The black-eyed Susans are blooming, so is the lavender, and the mint is out of control. The bee balm is bowing out of the mint’s way. The valerian root is trying to stand out amongst the weeds. The lilac bushes are holding their own, though one branch has given up. The pansies are fickle and wilt at a minute’s worth of too much sun, yet the second I flood them, they’ll perk up as if nothing was wrong. The pansies are acting like, well, pansies.

I realized there are probably a hundred metaphors or lessons on life in my garden. As I stepped close to examine leaves then stepped back to take in the whole plant or bush, I saw that the process of taking care of plants is much like the process of being a writer. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing Stuff

The Last Word

On a recent episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour the crew discussed first impressions in movies, books, films and TV. Panelist Glen Weldon gave some of his favorite opening lines in books then went on to create this comprehensive list of opening lines.

Coming to the end of the rewrite on my own novel, I find myself contemplating endings rather than beginnings, and I have another writerly confession to make: I judge a book by its last word, which I read first.

Before you lay judgement, things that I know:

A) This is a ludicrous habit.

B) The likelihood that an entire book could be encapsulated by only the last word, when considering the numerous books in existence, is outrageously and implausibly small.

And you might wonder how I can peek at the last word without spoiling the ending.  My ability to flip to the last page and peek, only taking in that last word, maybe two, has been fostered by years of looking at scary movies through fingers, ready to close the gap in a nanosecond lest I see a wayward severed head. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Books I’ve Read, Writing Stuff

What’s in a Name?

“Reader” By h.koppdelaney, via Flickr

“Reader” By h.koppdelaney, via Flickr

Nameless here for evermore.” – The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe

Recently I got married, and in the moments when I wasn’t deciding where my grandmother would sit during the ceremony, or trying to remember if I ate lunch that day, a quandary of many female writers weighed on my mind–once married, should I publish using my married name?

Many writers or dispensers of writing advice will tell you NOT to publish under your married name because, frankly, statistics are not in your favor. You could become Mrs. Fabulous-Last-Name (hyphenated, of course) only to find yourself divorced within five to ten years with that pesky pen name following you from book cover to book cover as a reminder of your ex.

Others will tell you not to take your partner’s name, particularly if they will be publishing too.  I always thought this argument was a little backwards. I’m sure Tabitha King has had some success because of her famous husband. And the Brownings literary success seemed mutually beneficial too. Shouldn’t having the same name as your famous partner help to boost your own success?

Before deciding whether or not to take my partner’s name, let’s take a look at the name I have: Ashley Johnson.

Do you know how many Ashley Johnson’s there are in the world? I was even a member of a Facebook group dedicated to the name that has thousands of members (which has since mysteriously disappeared from my profile).

Do you remember Chrissy form the TV Show Growing Pains? That actress is named Ashley Johnson.

Not only was “Ashley” the most popular girls’ name in 1991 and 1992, the surname “Johnson” is downright boring. For that matter it’s not even mine. My Irish ancestors used the name to come to America at least a century ago. I could be an O’Malley or a Kelly for all I know.

If you need another reason, I had a nightmarish nickname: Big Johnson.

Some of my fellow writers suggested I abandon my entire name and take on a new identity, complete with vague ethnic origins, a signature handshake, and subtle adjustments to my gait. The name they concocted for me was good. Too good, in fact, to share, in case I decide to use it to write erotica or science fiction.

These reasons aside, I’ve chosen to take my partner’s name (albeit selfishly) because I like it better than mine. To me it sounds literary. It sounds like the person I want to be.

And, I figure it can’t hurt throwing my middle initial in there. It worked for J. K. Rowling.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art and Artists, Writing Stuff

Stonecoast’s Faculty Blog’s Literary Moments of 2012

ashleykwarren:

Here’s  a post I wrote for my other blogging gig, check it out.

Originally posted on Stonecoast Faculty Blog:

“2012” by hellojenuine courtesy of Flickr

“2012” by hellojenuine courtesy of Flickr

It’s that time of year when the world makes lists: best-of, top-this, best-that. In the tradition of fostering reflection, the Stonecoast Faculty Blog has come up with our own end-of-year list, our Literary Moments of 2012 (in no particular order). Have some literary moments of your own? We’d love to read them—just leave them in the comments below.

No Pulitzer Awarded for Fiction

Pencils dropped last April when the Pulitzer judges did not award a prize for fiction. The Pulitzer judges have withheld an award for fiction 11 times, the last time being in 1977. Three finalists were identified for the 2012 prize: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace.”The three books were fully considered, but in the end, none mustered the mandatory majority for granting a prize, so no prize was awarded,”…

View original 435 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Art and Artists, Teaching

Who Needs Macy’s?

One of the many joys of moving back to Montana is the opportunity to observe the quaint traditions of the community where I live, namely, the Annual Holiday Parade. Granted, there were no balloons or Businessmen of Whimsy, but as you will see, a Western Holiday Parade is fraught with entertainment value.

Top 6 Things You’ll See in a Western Parade

1) A float in a Western Parade isn’t complete without a pair of antlers.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Lists, Photog-blog

When Artists Retire

image courtesy of The Philip Roth Society

Last week, several American news outlets reported that novelist Philip Roth had written his last book.

Here is an excerpt from an article posted on Salon.com:

Roth said that at 74, realizing he was running out of years, he reread all his favorite novels, and then reread all his books in reverse chronological order. “I wanted to see if I had wasted my time writing,” he said. “And I thought it was rather successful. At the end of his life, the boxer Joe Louis said: ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.

“And after that, I decided that I was done with fiction. I do not want to read, to write more,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to the novel: I studied, I taught, I wrote and I read. With the exclusion of almost everything else. Enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced in my life.”

As an artist at the beginning of my career, Roth’s statements seem hard to believe. With more books to read than I can count, and story ideas that keep me awake at night, how could a lifetime be possibly long enough to read everything I want to read and write everything I want to write?

Roth’s statements bring to light a great debate or paradox for many artists: is being an artist a job or a calling?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Art and Artists, Writing Stuff